LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Support the Indian River School District referendum

Indian River School District Community,

Let me begin by thanking our district staff and our community for the support that I have had in the short time I have been the interim superintendent.

The Indian River School District has a long-standing reputation throughout the state as being leaders in the field of education. As your superintendent, I will be committed to sustaining, supporting, and building upon an already strong reputation. I have had the opportunity to serve our district for 36 years as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, assistant superintendent and now as the interim superintendent. I can honestly say that over the many years that I have served this district, I have witnessed both the good and the bad times.

The past year has been exceptionally challenging for our district. The financial issues that we face are beyond a critical stage with news that the state will be cutting funding from the state education budget.

Mark Steele

Early indications are that the school districts will have state funding cuts anywhere from 2.5 percent to 10 percent. For our district, that amount ranges from approximately 2.4 to 9.5 million dollars. This is in addition to the local funds that we need from the upcoming March 2 current expense referendum to operate next year.

It is imperative that we pass the upcoming current expense referendum, and we need the support of our community to accomplish this task. This referendum may be the single most important event in the history of our school district. I am asking everyone to please support this referendum because a negative result will be devastating to our schools, community and, most importantly, our students.

We are working diligently to repair the relationship between our district and the community. As long as I am the superintendent of our district, I promise each and every one of you that we will be totally transparent and will strive to develop an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust with all stakeholders. I have outlined five priorities that I feel are necessary in making our community relationship stronger.

1.) Create a Community Budget Oversight Committee to work closely with our board and administration to provide an extra level of oversight of district spending and budget planning. The Department of Education or another outside entity would provide training to this committee which would be blended with our current district financial committee.

2.) Conduct internal audits throughout the fiscal year to make sure that all financial transactions are in compliance with district, state and federal regulations. These audits would be in addition to any state or federal audits that are done. All audit results, whether state, federal or internal, will be posted on the district website for all community members to review.

3.) Review and revise all financial policies and regulations to make sure they are in compliance with all state regulations. The administration has already completed this task and is in the process of working with the state auditors to make sure the policies meet or exceed state regulations. In addition, the financial director will post financial reports on the district website for all community members to review.

4.) Develop a school district comprehensive strategic plan with short- and long-term goals. This type of plan will give the community insight as to the future direction of the school district. This would require the district to work cooperatively with community members on identifying important goals and developing a comprehensive action plan to accomplish these goals. Some of the important areas that should be addressed are curriculum, communication, and finances.

The district would need to complete a self-study that would include surveys by students, staff, parents and community members and organizations, as well as a sociological survey of the demographics and needs of our school district’s community. This is an intensive task that requires the district and community to work closely together in forging the future path of our educational system.

5.) Establish a better working relationship with area businesses by involving them in planning and oversight of our college and career programs in order to ensure students be college- and/or career-ready upon graduation. The Indian River School District has changed dramatically over the past 30 years. The population surge has brought substantial change and growth in the business and community economy. We must meet the needs of our students.

I am asking the community to please be informed of our current financial situation before voting on the March 2 referendum. My team is willing to address any group or organization in order to provide a complete picture of our current financial situation, as well as our plans on moving the district forward in a positive direction. This referendum solely focuses on the education and safety needs of our students. Emotions are high among those who support and those who oppose the tax increase.

I am asking our community to put emotions aside and look at the tremendous impact on our students, district and community. I have not only served this district for 36 years, but I have been a community member my entire life. We have always been able to work through the good and bad times.

We have the ability to meet the challenges we face if we work together and stand as one strong community. I promise you, as a lifelong community member and as your superintendent, that my focus will be on what is best for our students, district and community.

My ultimate goal is to strengthen the school district by infusing the community into the oversight and planning of our future.

Mark Steele
Interim Superintendent,
Indian River School District

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